Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. 1965 Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore The North Coast Children's Home. 1965 Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

Archbishop of Perth personally apologises to abuse victims

ONE of the most senior members of the Anglican Church of Australia has personally apologised to victims who suffered child sex abuse at Lismore's North Coast Children's home and welcomed the public scrutiny arising from the historic royal commission.

In the final moments of this week's hearings into the Grafton Diocese's response to claims of abuse at the home, Adrian Herft, Archbishop of Perth, took the rare step of making an unguarded statement.

He told the commission he was "profoundly saddened" by what took place at Lismore and that "people who rightly expected the sanctity and dignity of life did not receive it but received something totally opposite to that, which has harmed or hurt them".

He went on to say he was "deeply remorseful" than any acts of commission or omission on his own part may have added to the trauma and said he hoped that the commission would help the Church to "get a handle on how best we should have our structures in place to assist the ongoing work... as it continues to be a witness in our land".

His comments followed a series of questions about his time as Bishop of Newcastle between 1993 and 2005 and in particular his dealings with convicted child sex offender and former Lismore priest Allan Kitchingman.

He said it wasn't until 2002, when Kitchingman was before the courts over a past assault of a teenage male at the Lismore home, when he became aware of the priest's history.

At the time there was no national register and Kitchingman was not applying for a licence to perform functions within the diocese, meaning background checks were not carried out.

Archbishop Herft said that when he read about the case in the news, he contacted the Grafton bishop thinking "he didn't know about this either".

The Grafton bishop however told him he was aware of it, that it was "to do with a home in Lismore and that as far as he was concerned the matter was proceeding to compensation".

Asked why he didn't take steps to depose Kitchingman of "holy orders", Archbishop Herft said that at the time he wasn't aware it was a process he could initiate on his own and that he was "under the impression Grafton had gone further down the track...I...thought that the matter would have been completed by the Diocese of Grafton".

Earlier, the commission heard Kitchingman had been worshipping at the Christ Church Cathedral, where "matters of concern" relating to the Dean of Newcastle were under investigation.

Archbishop Herft said that, until he heard the evidence before the royal commission, he had never been made aware the then-professional standards director was concerned about the Dean.

Asked whether he would have expected to be told about those concerns, Archbishop Herft replied, "I would have".

The inquiry closed with the cross-examination of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall.

Submissions will be heard on January 24.